Image source: River Blackwater Catchment Trust

Pat McKenna is a Dexter farmer in north County Monaghan. He has close to 100 dexter animals, and is involved in the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) which offers payments for applicants who carry out actions to enhance the rural environment.  Pat uses no chemical fertiliser input on the pasture, just manure/slurry. He planted 10 acres of broadleaf forestry 8 years ago. The hedges on his farm haven’t been touched in 15 years and are fantastic wildlife habitats. He markets beef directly to restaurant trade as it is a premium product.
In 2020, he took part in Sliabh Beagh uplands conservation grazing trial on An Taisce land. The environmental objective was to reduce fire risk in the Sliabh Beagh uplands, Natura 2000 site. The native Irish dexters are suitable animals for this due to small size and hardy nature. They broke up and grazed sward that formed a heavy fuel load and constituted a fire risk. As a consequence, he has put in place a grazing agreement for the Sliabh Beagh uplands to provide conservation grazing for the next 5 years. This will be targeted grazing and will reduce fire risk to this Natura 2000 site. Pat has a deep understand of the importance of low impact grazing. In order to make the farm enterprise profitable, a direct marketing approach for the product is taken. The way the animals are grazed and their breed make for a superior product, but their smaller size make for smaller cuts. This limits the market and makes the beef a higher end product. This is all tied in with his new conservation grazing approach.
It was Pat who approached the new landowners on Sliabh Beagh in 2020 with the idea of restoring low impact grazing to this area of north county Monaghan uplands. His initiative is a positive example to other farmers. He hopes to enter into the Dept Ag. Hen harrier scheme which will deliver further environmental benefits from this upland grazing regime. He also worked closely with the local group water scheme to insure that there are no impacts on local supply source, close to the grazing site. He has been working closely with the Collaborative Action for the Natura Network project, funded through Interreg, to ensure that activities are in line with habitat information, and conservation actions through this initiative. The project is developing a Wildfire Management Plan for the Sliabh Beagh site in 2021, and the results from the Dexter grazing trial will provide invaluable information for it.
Nominator: Shirley Clerkin, Heritage Officer, Monaghan County Council

For more information see the Farming for Nature website: https://www.farmingfornature.ie/nominees/pat-mckenna/